Is Scientific Truth Always Beautiful?
Does science have a “beauty” problem? David Orrell, a mathematician and consultant, argues that it doesâ€”or, at least, that some of its practitioners are in thrall to ideals involving “elegance,” “symmetry,” and “unity” that are beckoning them down false paths.
From Euclid and Pythagoras down to 20th-century physicists, many who explore the underlying laws of the natural world have seen truth and beauty as inextricably intertwined. “Beauty is a successful criterion for selecting the right theory,” the Nobel Prize-winning physicist Murray Gell-Mann said in a much-quoted TED talk, in 2007. In their popular-philosophizing mode, physicists like to quote the poets Keats (“beauty is truth, truth beauty”) or Blake on the subject of nature’s “fearful symmetry.”